Selling the States: The sky's the limit

Selling the States: The sky's the limit

US specialist Merv Bates has been selling holidays to America for quarter of a century and has visited the country on numerous occasions. As a personal travel advisor with The Co-operative Travel, he puts together everything from classic city breaks to tailor-made coast-to-coast tours for his clients. Here, he shares his top tips for selling the States.

WHERE TO GO


People tend to have a general idea of what they want. Families going for the first time tend to do two weeks in the Orlando area, while for the second time they might go to the Keys or Miami.

For city breaks, nine times out of 10 people go straight to New York. But if they’ve already done that, they might consider Boston or Philadelphia. It’s up to agents to give them some good ideas.

California has pretty much everything, although it’s a longer flight so it tends to be people who’ve been to the States before. There’s skiing in the north, beaches around the LA area, or the Disney and Universal parks.

One of my best holidays was when I went to San Francisco last year and then headed up to Yosemite National Park and stayed in a lodge. It was winter so the whole place was covered in snow, and the hiking was amazing.

If you don’t want it to be too expensive, you can travel around in a Winnebago motorhome, or if customers are a bit younger, Trek America has a lot of camping and budget accommodation.

Fly-drives are also popular, although they always turn into quite big holidays as people try and fit as much as they can in. One of the most popular routes is spending three or four nights in Boston then driving down through New England to Cape Cod. It’s fantastic in summer because it’s really hot and there are some great beaches down there, and fall is also brilliant because the scenery is beautiful.

Yosemite

ALTERNATIVE IDEAS


If a customer wants something a bit different for a shopping break, try Philadelphia – it’s a great place to visit and there’s loads to do.

The New Orleans area is always great, especially for jazz. Now the hurricane damage has been cleared up, it’s popular again.

Elvis tours in Tennessee are pretty popular too. There’s a massive market for that and lots of operators include Graceland in their itineraries, so you can add it on to a longer trip.

I would also recommend learning about cruising, because that’s a massive opportunity out of the States, and you can do it as a twin-centre. You can add in a two or three-night cruise around the Caribbean, or spend a few days in New York then cruise home. There are some really good deals and there’s no baggage allowance on the way home, so if you’re a shopper, it’s ideal.

HOW TO SELL IT


My advice would be to piggy-back on the advertising that’s out there, like the California advert that’s been on this year. Get some deals in windows or email customers with offers as soon as the adverts begin, to make sure that if they are thinking about going, they’ll come to you to book.

I flick through as much as I can in the media because if there’s anything about the US, some of my customers will have read it too.

My biggest tip is to question the customers about what they want, especially if they have never been before, and manage their expectations.

It’s not a cheap destination, even when you get there. Eating out is good value but you’ve got to be prepared for all the other costs.

Also, flights are a lot more expensive in the States. In the UK, we can get an internal flight for £30 or £40 so people expect it to be the same for domestic flights there, but if you’re going from San Francisco to Hawaii, it’s a six-hour flight and it costs a lot more.

Distances are also a huge pitfall for people travelling within the US. People think you can drive from New York to San Francisco in one or two days – it can’t be done.

STAY UP TO DATE


The recession has definitely had an impact on bookings. I’m seeing fewer but higher-value bookings, so I think a lot of people are saving up for one big holiday – and they want to enjoy it.

Retired people are travelling just as much, so that’s worth tapping into. If they want winter sun, Miami and the Keys are great, or Carmel and Santa Monica in California are really nice and easy to drive around.

I’m also seeing villas becoming more popular these days, especially in Florida. If your clients have a large family, always cost out a home as opposed to a hotel because it might work out cheaper. There are some beautiful houses there, and you’ve got your own pool and a lot more space than in a hotel. Good Life Florida Villas has a great selection, so I tend to go back to them.

USAirtours is my favourite company. Their staff are friendly, knowledgeable and very quick at giving you answers. They cover the whole of the US too.

Funway Holidays has really good prices and you can make bookings on their website which is handy, while if you’re searching for something a bit unusual, All of America has so many options they’re bound to be able to find a hotel.

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